2016 Best in the Triangle and Restaurant of the Year

Dry-aged steak, spring onion and chimichurri from the menu at Death & Taxes in downtown Raleigh.

Dry-aged steak, spring onion and chimichurri from the menu at Death & Taxes in downtown Raleigh.

The best restaurants in the Triangle for 2016

All three of the Triangle’s James Beard Best Chef winners embarked on new ventures in 2015. Ashley Christensen has the Restaurant of the Year with her casual and cosmopolitan Death & Taxes. Other noteworthy new restaurants came from Scott Howell in Durham and Scott Crawford in Raleigh.

By Greg Cox
Originally published 1/29/2016

Last year, the Triangle experienced the culinary equivalent of a rare planetary alignment: All three local winners of the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast embarked on new restaurant ventures.

2014 winner Ashley Christensen, owner/chef of the acclaimed Poole’s Diner and several other establishments in downtown Raleigh, opened Death & Taxes in June. Lantern chef/proprietor Andrea Reusing, who brought home the medal in 2009, launched the restaurant in The Durham Hotel in October (too late for me to review in time for this year’s roundup). 2000 winner Ben Barker, of the now-shuttered (and still missed) Magnolia Grill, has teamed up with his wife, Karen (herself winner of the 2003 Beard Award for America’s Outstanding Pastry Chef) and their son, Gabe, to open Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro. They’re looking to fire up the brick-lined ovens any day now.

In my book, that trifecta of restaurant news qualifies 2015 as a banner year, even if nothing else of note happened all year. In fact, a whole lot else happened.

For starters, the Beard Award winners were not the only noteworthy talents to embark on new ventures. Nana’s chef Scott Howell made a splash in the bar scene with Bar Virgile in downtown Durham, with executive chef Carrie Schleiffer turning out exquisite small plates to pair with bar manager Daniel Sartain’s rigorously researched list of classic cocktails.

Scott Crawford, formerly executive chef of Herons in the Umstead Hotel, teamed up with developer John Holmes to open Standard Foods in Raleigh (another late launch that’s on my radar for a 2016 review).

A few local landmarks moved to new digs, among them Taverna Agora (from Northwest Raleigh to downtown), Dos Taquitos (from Creedmoor Crossings to the building vacated by Taverna Agora), and Cafe Tiramisu (across the parking lot to the other side of North Ridge Shopping Center). All managed to retain much of the charm that had made them enduring favorites, and Taverna Agora’s new rooftop patio is sure to become a landmark in its own right.

Meanwhile, food trucks – a category defined by mobility – continue to expand our list of cheap-eats options at a dizzying clip. As the market matures, a growing number of the more successful vendors are setting up brick-and-mortar locations. In 2015 alone, 11 food truck operators (unless I missed one or two; they’re a moving target, after all) set up shop at a fixed address. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these are in Durham, where the local food truck trend first kicked into gear.

Indian restaurants outpaced all other cuisines on the list of newcomers, and the Cary-Morrisville area continued to solidify its reputation as the hub. The area now accounts for more than half the 50 or so Indian restaurants in the Triangle, a list that covers an ever-widening spectrum of regional cuisines from Hyderabadi to Himalayan.

Every year sees a few unexpected closings – of long-established restaurants, or notable new ones – and 2015 was no exception. Last year’s restaurant obituaries included Battistella’s, Black House at Straw Valley, Brewmasters, The Cary Cafe, Ed Mitchell’s Que, Firewürst, Fishmonger’s, Natty Greene’s, Pie Bird and 518 West.

On the bright side, Bali Hai – a perennial Raleigh favorite closed by a fire in 2013, after more than 30 years – finally found a new home after a two-year search. Mongolian barbecue fans can now get their fix at the restaurant’s spiffy new digs in Garner.

The dining room and bar at Death & Taxes in downtown Raleigh. The restaurant, whose marble tables, leather banquettes and vintage­look chandeliers combine for a look that’s at once cosmopolitan and casual.

The dining room and bar at Death & Taxes in downtown Raleigh. The restaurant, whose marble tables, leather banquettes and vintage­look chandeliers combine for a look that’s at once cosmopolitan
and casual.

Restaurant of the Year 2016

Death & Taxes

All three of the Triangle’s James Beard Best Chef winners embarked on new ventures in 2015, but Ashley Christensen has the Restaurant of the Year with her casual and cosmopolitan Death & Taxes in downtown Raleigh.

To say that expectations were high when Ashley Christensen opened Death & Taxes last summer would be an understatement. Poole’s, her downtown Raleigh flagship, has won nationwide acclaim and was key to her winning the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. Her other ventures – Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s (gourmet burgers), Fox Liquor Bar, and Joule Coffee & Table – are all strong best-in-class candidates.

The bar for Death & Taxes was set in the stratosphere, then, and was raised even higher by the challenging concept: a menu driven almost entirely by a wood-burning grill. Christensen and her well-trained crew cleared it in style.

That’s “style,” as in a wait staff that are as friendly as they are well-trained, and a dining room whose leather banquettes, marble tables and vintage-look chandeliers were featured in Architectural Digest magazine. Located in a historic building that has in the past been home to a funeral home and a bank (hence the restaurant’s name), Death & Taxes sets a mood that is at once cosmopolitan and casual.

From the culinary perspective, the most stylish feature of all is the custom-built grill that dominates one end of the open kitchen. A massive beast of structural steel and firebrick that burns seasoned post oak (selected expressly for its balanced, moderately smoky flavor), the grill turns out everything from fire-roasted okra pods to dry-aged steaks.

The menu evolves with the seasons, though you can count on a few popular staples. The featured steak – a porterhouse, say, or a bone-in Kansas City strip – will set you back $60-$70 but will make a meal for two that you won’t soon forget. The poussin lives up to Christensen’s well-deserved reputation for roasted chicken. Roasted oysters with preserved lemon and chile butter are a must, regardless of the oyster variety.

Other highlights of my visits – ember-killed salad with country ham and a warm cider dressing, whole crab salad with citrus and avocado, pickled muscadine grape hull tart – may no longer be available, but not to worry. Death & Taxes is one of those rare restaurants where it’s nearly impossible to make a bad choice. That goes for the beverage selection, too, whether it’s a craft cocktail or one of the wines from the old bank vault that has been repurposed as a temperature-controlled cellar.

This year, it’s tempting to change “Restaurant of the Year” to “Lifetime Achievement Award” for Ashley Christensen. In addition to being a supremely gifted chef and successful restaurateur, she’s a vocal cheerleader for other restaurants in the area and a tireless supporter of worthy causes.

But make no mistake, Death & Taxes is worthy of selection as Restaurant of the Year in its own right. And besides, for all her accomplishments, Ashley Christensen is still far too young for a Lifetime Achievement Award.

goldrestaurants

Best restaurants by category

GOLD MEDAL

Fearrington House
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Pittsboro
919-542-2121
fearringtonhouse.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Herons
100 Woodland Pond, in the Umstead Hotel & Spa, Cary
919-447-4000
theumstead.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Il Palio
1505 E. Franklin St., in the Siena Hotel, Chapel Hill
919-929-4000
sienahotel.com
Cuisine: Italian

Lantern
423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-969-8846
lanternrestaurant.com
Cuisine: Asian

Mateo
109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham
919-530-8700
mateotapas.com
Cuisine: Spanish (tapas)

Nana’s
2514 University Drive, Durham
919-493-8545
nanasdurham.com
Cuisine: contemporary Mediterranean

Oakleaf
480 Hillsborough St., Pittsboro
919-533-6303
oakleafnc.com
Cuisine: contemporary

One
100 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill
919-537-8207
one-restaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Panciuto
110 S. Churton St., Hillsborough
919-732-6261
panciuto.com
Cuisine: contemporary Italian

Poole’s Downtown Diner
426 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
919-832-4477
poolesdowntowndiner.com
Cuisine: American bistro

Second Empire
330 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
919-829-3663
second-empire.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Yamazushi
4711 Hope Valley Road, Durham
919-493-7748
yamazushirestaurant.com
Cuisine: Japanese

silvermedals

SILVER MEDAL

18 Seaboard
18-100 Seaboard Ave., Raleigh
919-861-4318
18restaurantgroup.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern, grill

An
2800 Renaissance Park Place, Cary
919-677-9229
ancuisines.com
Cuisine: contemporary Asian

Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
919-781-2444
angusbarn.com
Cuisine: steakhouse

Bida Manda
222 S. Blount St., Raleigh
919-829-9999
bidamanda.com
Cuisine: Laotian

Bleu Olive
1821 Hillandale Road, Durham
919-383-8502
bleuolivebistro.com
Cuisine: contemporary Mediterranean

Bloomsbury Bistro
509-101 West Whitaker Mill Road, Raleigh
919-834-9011
bloomsburybistro.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Bruno
11211 Galleria Ave., Raleigh
919-435-6640
brunoraleigh.com
Cuisine: steaks, seafood, Italian

bu.ku
110 E. Davie St., Raleigh
834-6963
bukuraleigh.com
Cuisine: global street food

Coquette
4351 The Circle at North Hills, Raleigh
919-789-0606
coquetteraleigh.com
Cuisine: French

Elaine’s on Franklin
454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-960-2770
elainesonfranklin.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Fairview
3001 Cameron Blvd., in the Washington Duke Inn, Durham
919-490-0999
washingtondukeinn.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Four Square
2701 Chapel Hill Road, Durham
919-401-9877
foursquarerestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Glenwood Grill
2603 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
919-782-3102
glenwoodgrill.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Gocciolina
3314 Guess Road, Durham
919-973-4089
gocciolina.com
Cuisine: Italian

Guglhupf
2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham
401-2600
www.guglhupf.com
Cuisine: German

Kitchen
764 Martin Luther King Blvd., Chapel Hill
919-537-8167
kitchenchapelhill.com
Cuisine: French, contemporary

Little Hen
5160 Sunset Lake Road, Holly Springs
919-363-0000
littlehennc.com
Cuisine: American

Mandolin
2519 Fairview Road, Raleigh
919-322-0365
mandolinraleigh.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Margaux’s
8111-111 Creedmoor Road, in Brennan Station, Raleigh
919-846-9846
margauxsrestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary, seafood

Piedmont
401-B2 Foster St., Durham
919-683-1213
piedmontrestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Plates
301 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
919-828-0018
plateskitchen.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Saint Jacques
6112 Falls of Neuse Rd, Raleigh
919-862-2770
saintjacquesfrenchcuisine.com
Cuisine: French

Stanbury
938 N. Blount St., Raleigh
919-977-4321
stanburyraleigh.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Vivace
4209-115 Lassiter Mill Road, in The Alexan, Raleigh
919-787-7747
vivaceraleigh.com
Cuisine: Italian

Watts Grocery
1116 Broad St., Durham
919-416-5040
wattsgrocery.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern

BEST IN CLASS (BY CUISINE)

BAKERY
Guglhupf
2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham
401-2600
www.guglhupf.com

BARBECUE
Hillsborough BBQ Company
236 S. Nash St., Hillsborough
919-732-4647
hillsboroughbbq.com

BURGER
Chuck’s
237 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
919-322-0126
ac-restaurants.com/chucks

CAJUN/CREOLE
La Place
111 N. Churton St., Hillsborough
919-245-0041
laplacehillsborough.com

CHINESE (CANTONESE)
Shanghai
3433 Hillsborough Road, Durham
919-383-5700
shanghaidurham.com

CHINESE (SZECHWAN)
Gourmet Kingdom
301 E. Main St., Carrboro
919-932-7222
thegourmetkingdom.com


CHINESE (TAIWANESE)
Taipei 101
121-A E. Chatham St., Cary
388-3553
www.carytaipei101.com


COFFEEHOUSE/CAFE
Joule Coffee
223 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh 
919-424-7422
ac-restaurants.com/joule

CUBAN
Old Havana Sandwich Shop
310 E. Main St., Durham
919-667-9525
oldhavanaeats.com

DELI
New York Bagel & Deli III
2050 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary
919-851-9050
newyorkbagelsanddeli.com

ETHIOPIAN
Queen of Sheba
1129-O Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill
919-932-4986
queenofshebachapelhill.com

FRENCH
Vin Rouge
2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham
919-416-0466
vinrougerestaurant.com

FUSION
Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas
112 W. Main St., Durham
984-439-8702
lunarotisserie.com
Latin-Southern fusion

GERMAN, POLISH
J. Betski’s
10-120 West Franklin St., Raleigh
919-833-7999
jbetskis.com

GREEK
Kipos
431 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-425-0760
kiposgreektaverna.com

INDIAN (CONTEMPORARY)
Garland
14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
919-833-6886
garlandraleigh.com

INDIAN (NORTHERN AND INDO-CHINESE)
Aroma
160-114 NE Maynard Road, Cary
919-415-1132
aromacarync.com

INDIAN (SOUTHERN)
CholaNad
308 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
800-246-5262
www.cholanad.com

IRISH PUB
Doherty’s
Two locations: 1979 High House Road, Cary; 5490 Apex Peakway, Apex
919-388-9930 (Cary); 919-387-4100
dohertysirishpubnc.com

ITALIAN
Gocciolina
3314 Guess Road, Durham
919-973-4089
gocciolina.com

JAPANESE
Waraji
5910 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh
919-783-1883
warajijapaneserestaurant.com

KOREAN
Seoul Garden
4701 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh
919-850-9984
raleighseoulgarden.com

LEBANESE
Sitti
137 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
919-239-4070
sitti-raleigh.com

MEXICAN (CONTEMPORARY)
Centro
106 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
919-835-3593
centroraleigh.com

MEXICAN (TAQUERIA)
La Superior
3325 N. Roxboro St., Durham
919-220-3588

MEXICAN (TRADITIONAL)
Vallarta
3177 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
919-790-2696
facebook.com/Tacos-Y-Mariscos-Vallarta-116209855074104/

PAN-ASIAN
Banana Leaf
1026 Ryan Road, Cary
919-468-9958
bananaleafcary.com

PASTRIES
lucettegrace
235 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh
919-307-4950
lucettegrace.com

PERUVIAN
Machu Picchu
4500-100 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh
919-526-7378
machupicchuperuviancuisine.com

PIZZA
Pizzeria Toro
105 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
919-908-6936
pizzeriatoro.com

SANDWICHES
Neal’s Deli
100-C E. Main St., Carrboro
919-967-2185
nealsdeli.com

SEAFOOD
Blu Seafood & Bar
2002 Hillsborough Road, Durham
919-286-9777
bluseafoodandbar.com

SOUTHERN
Crook’s Corner
610 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-929-7643
crookscorner.com

STEAKHOUSE
Bin 54
1201-M Raleigh Road, Chapel Hill
919-969-1155
bin54restaurant.com

TAPAS
Mateo
109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham
919-530-8700
mateotapas.com

THAI
Lemongrass
8320-142 Litchford Road, Raleigh
919-954-0377
lemongrassthairestaurant.net

TURKISH
Talulla’s
456 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
919-933-1177
talullas.com

VEGETARIAN
The Fiction Kitchen
428 S. Dawson St., Raleigh
919-831-4177
thefictionkitchen.com

VIETNAMESE
Pho Far East
4011 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
919-876-8621
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pho-Far-East-Inc/120488237964161?fref=ts

BEST NEW RESTAURANTS

Bar Virgile
105 S. Mangum St., Durham
919-973-3000
barvirgile.com
Cuisine: small plates

The Boot
2501 University Drive, Durham
919-294-8383
thebootdurham.com
Cuisine: Italian

Cave 1912
1912 Bernard St., Raleigh
919-977-3864
cave1912.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Counting House
111 N. Corcoran St., Durham
919-956-6760
countinghousenc.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Dashi
415 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
919-251-9335
dashiramen.com
Cuisine: Japanese

Death & Taxes
105 W. Hargett St., Raleigh
919-242-0218
ac-restaurants.com/death-taxes
Cuisine: contemporary grill

Juju
737 Ninth St., Durham
919-286-3555
jujudurham.com
Cuisine: Asian fusion tapas